The Method to My (Researching) Madness

Hey there, everyone!

So we are well into Week 2 of my thesis work, and I am pretty much up to my eyeballs in texts about Hezbollah and the IRA. In case you don’t know, my thesis will be a comparative look at the political structures of a Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah, and a separatist group, the Irish Republican Army. I’ve started with my focus on Hezbollah, and hopefully in a few weeks I’ll move on to the IRA.

This is my preliminary stack. Preliminary. *Sigh*.

This is my preliminary stack. Preliminary. *Sigh*.

My thesis advisor, Dr. Colin Clarke, has very kindly given me access to some of the materials he’s gathered throughout his career as an expert on terrorist organizations. Those are the articles in the green folders the photo above. While I joke about the amount of reading I have to do, the truth is that these documents will be invaluable in hitting the ground running on my thesis. Once I get through these texts, I will have a far better idea of where to look in the wide world of terrorist-organization research for more information. So, thanks, Dr. Clarke!

But of course, the secret to any successful academic campaign is strategic planning. To that end, I’ve laid the groundwork for my 2015-2016 thesis schedule, as well as established my various lines of inquiry. As a researcher, it’s always been important for me to figure out what I’m looking for in a particular topic. In a major research endeavor, the effectiveness of your work does not hinge on how much you know, but rather on if you know which are the important questions to ask. For me, establishing what I’m keeping an eye out for in my mountain of material also helps me organize my thoughts, but more importantly, it keeps me from forming an opinion too quickly. For the next few weeks, I will be doing my best not to form theories, but rather to gather as much information as I can and fit all those disparate pieces together.


This is the first page of my thesis notebook. I color-code when daunted by huge amounts of information.

I’ve established five major categories. First, how the group, be it Hezbollah or the IRA, views politics and participation, and what services it provides to the people in its territory. What does the group give that the official government can’t? Second, how community support and volunteering work. What encourages locals to move from providing things like safe houses or supplies to actually taking up arms and joining these militant groups? Third, leadership and structure. How does the group organize itself? Does it have outside support? Fourth, media and public relations. How does each group disseminate its message? More importantly, how does each group see itself? Fifth, and the most concrete of all: finances. Where are the group’s revenue streams coming from? How is that money distributed?

I’m a curious person by nature. One of the things I have always adored about academics is that it provides me with the opportunity to ask interesting questions. One question that keeps popping into my head as I comb through articles and books on Hezbollah is: What is the nature of territory? What does ‘territory’ even mean? Officially, the Lebanese army controls the nation’s southern border (the one it shares with Israel), but in reality, it hasn’t actually controlled that region for decades. Hezbollah has. So what does that mean for modern nation-states? If Lebanon does not control that territory, but Hezbollah does, does that mean that Hezbollah can be classified as a mere militant group? Or is it something more complex and nuanced?

(Hint: I think it might be something more complex and nuanced. One thing I have learned in my years as a Global Studies major is that when you’re studying human beings and the way they interact with the world, nothing is ever simple.)

Obviously, as my thesis goes on, I will have to narrow down my questions. But for now, I’m enjoying myself.

This thesis brought to you by Carnegie Mellon University. Also coffee.

This thesis brought to you by Carnegie Mellon University. Also coffee.

See you all in two weeks!

Read more about my project.